When it comes to e-commerce you need a lot more than just “know how” – you need to “know why” you make your decisions. My friend, popular blogger, and WordCamp presenter Chris Lema gave an excellent talk at WordCamp Los Angeles where he said, “Know Why eats Know How’s lunch every day of the week.” In these notes from my presentation at WordCamp Raleigh we’ll go deeper than just how to install a plugin and uncover the reasons why you choose one payment gateway over another, why you want to store digital files somewhere other than your WordPress file system, why you should use a transactional email service with your e-commerce site, and more. So let’s get started.
E-commerce and Payment Gateways
If you’re going to accept credit cards online you are going to need a payment gateway to process the credit card transactions. There are two general types of payment gateways – those that come with a merchant account and those that require you to set up your own personal merchant account.
A payment gateway is the software side of accepting credit card payments online. Your e-commerce site will send your customer’s credit card information to your payment gateway which will then attempt to authorize the sale. If the transaction is approved then the money from the transaction will end up in your merchant account. Your merchant account is like a temporary online bank account that holds the money from your sales until it is transferred into your “real” bank account – the one where you have a checkbook and do your normal banking. If you are new to e-commerce this is complicated topic. Here is a much more detailed explanation of the difference between payment gateways and merchant accounts.
Payment Gateway Costs
Now that you know you need a payment gateway to process credit cards payments online, beware of the costs. When you are signing up for your payment gateway account you will most likely be presented with a happy list of all the things you are getting for “free” but don’t let that fool you. Payment gateways invent new places to hide fees any chance they get. A few important fees to look out for are Qualified vs Non-qualified transaction rates, statement fees, international transaction fees, and early termination fees. The early termination fee can apply to both your payment gateway account AND your merchant account. For more details on the fees to look out for read understanding the costs of your payment gateway.
Payment Gateway Lock-in
If you are planning to sell subscriptions or store credit cards for your customers to make repeat sales quick and easy, you may be tempted to store customer account information in the “secure vault” provided by your payment gateway. This may seem like a good idea at first because you know you can’t store credit card data in your WordPress database due to security issues and PCI compliance requirements. Many payment gateways offer a secure area where you can store this type of data – perhaps at an additional fee. But what if you want to switch to a different payment gateway later on? Maybe you realized that you can get a lower rate by signing up for your own dedicated merchant account. The problem is, now all your customer data is locked up in your payment gateway. It is very difficult and often times impossible to get that secure data transferred to a different payment gateway.
If you are using Cart66 Cloud, all of this sensitive customer information is stored in your own slice of our PCI compliant secure cloud so you have the freedom to change payment gateways whenever you want. Once you change gateways, Cart66 Cloud will just start sending the transactions to your new gateway. All your customer data and subscription recipes (when to bill and how often) are all in your Cart66 Cloud account.
Why Choose One Payment Gateway Over Another?
Now that we’ve talked a bit about what a payment gateway is, what a merchant account is, and the fees to look out for you have the knowledge you need to know WHY you are picking your payment gateway.
If you choose a payment gateway such as Stripe or PayPal which both include an aggregate merchant account it is faster and easier to sign up and get going. But, because they have to spread the risk of all merchants across one set of fees, you may end up paying a little bit more per transaction compared to signing up for your own dedicated merchant account tailored to your specific business. On the other hand, getting your own dedicated merchant account will involve a bit more work and take longer to get setup.
Why Sell Subscriptions?
Now we’ve gotten through the first step. We’ve got a payment gateway setup and we’re ready to start selling things. I’d encourage you to consider selling subscriptions. Up until now, it’s been really hard to sell subscriptions because you have to worry about gateway lock-in, you need some way to set up the recurring billing details of how much to charge and how often. You need to set up outgoing email messages to alert your subscribers if a payment fails. There’s a lot going on with subscriptions and many people overlook the how profitable subscriptions can be simply because they think it would be too hard to implement.
Cart66 Cloud includes all of this for you. With Cart66 you can set up a subscription just as easily as you can set up any other type of product. All the complicated details concerning security, email notifications, and recurring billing are all included.
Even very low cost subscriptions can really add up. And, you can sell subscriptions for things you might not have thought of before. If you sell any sort of consumable product such as paper, ink, vitamins, dog food, air filters, water filters, batteries, etc. With Cart66 Cloud you can turn those products into subscriptions.
Subscriptions don’t have to grant access to premium content on your WordPress site. Other examples of subscriptions that you can easily sell with Cart66 Cloud include gym memberships, web hosting, consulting retainers, and lawn care services. You can set the number of recurring payments in a subscription and sell expensive items on a payment plan such as 5 payments of $99/month.
Sell Memberships Too
If you want to sell access to premium content on your WordPress site, that is included too. Cart66 Cloud comes with built-in tools for content restriction. You can require a visitor to be logged in with a valid membership to view a page, post, a section of content on a page or post, or even an entire post category.
Drip Content On Your Site
Another built-in feature of Cart66 Cloud is the ability to drip content to your members. For example, when configuring a post to only be available to paying members you can also delay access to the post for a certain number of days into the subscription. This is a great way to offer online courses. You can gradually release each lesson (perhaps one per week) over time.
Drip Emails To Your Customers
Dripping content is a great way to personalize the experience for your customers. Another great way to improve your customer relationships is with timed follow up messages. With Cart66 Cloud you can set up an email to be sent one week after the sale of a particular product. You can make sure the customer is happy with the product, ask if they have any questions, and maybe include a coupon for a future purchase.
Transactional Email Service
If you are running an e-commerce site, there is a lot of communication going on between you and your customers via email. Some types of emails you’ll be sending include:
- Email receipts
- Subscription related emails about failed payments
- Timed follow up emails
You want to make sure those messages do not get flagged as spam. These are important messages. Cart66 Cloud comes with a transactional email service powered by MailChimp for sending all your e-commerce emails. Email is a fairly complex thing and, by default, WordPress is not able to send email very well. Fast and reliable email delivery can’t be achieved by WordPress alone because you also need a high quality SMTP server. When it comes to fast and reliable email delivery Cart66 Cloud has you covered.
WordPress E-commerce Plugins
There are a lot of different e-commerce plugins available for WordPress today. They are almost all organized the same way in that you get a free core plugin that has some basic e-commerce features. Then it’s up to you to shop the marketplace for paid extensions and add-ons. Common paid add-ons include:
- payment gateways
- product variations
- recurring billing
- follow up emails
- and many many more
It’s up to you to find the add-ons you want, install them, and then hope that they all work nicely together. Then, even after you have done all that, you still have to worry about making sure your site is secure and PCI compliant. PCI compliance means a lot more than just installing an SSL certificate.
Cart66 Cloud takes a different approach and gives you everything you need all in one easy to use package. Everything we’ve talked about in this article is included in Cart66 Cloud for no additional cost. On top of that, Cart66 Cloud is the only WordPress e-commerce solution that makes your online store PCI compliant. This is not to say that all other plugins are not PCI compliant. It means that if you roll your own e-commerce solution using a basket of plugins and add-ons, the responsibility of making sure you meet the security and PCI compliance requirements is all on you also. Or, you could use Cart66 Cloud and just start selling knowing that all these details are already taken care of for you.
Why Is Cart66 The Most Secure WordPress E-commerce Solution?
For all the details you can read why Cart66 Cloud is the most secure solution for WordPress e-commerce. In summary, Cart66 is the most secure because it secures all aspects of your e-commerce business, not just the credit card transactions. Cart66 Cloud secures:
- All credit card transactions
- Your product prices and options so they can’t be hacked or changed
- Your customer’s order history
- Your customer’s account information (billing, shipping, credit card)
- Even the customer’s shopping cart itself
By securing the all of these things, Cart66 Cloud goes far beyond the requirements of a secure and PCI compliant e-commerce solution.
One More Free Service For Digital Products
If you are selling digital files, you do not want to store the files on your WordPress web server. There are several ways people try to make this work but there are serious draw backs, especially if the digital file is large, like a video.
If you store your digital products in a directory that is web accessible, such as the WordPress uploads directory, then you run the risk of having someone discover the direct link to your product. If they do that, then anyone can access that link and get your digital product for free.
To get around this problem some plugins use PHP to stream the digital product to the customer. This prevents direct linking to the product but creates other problems – especially for large digital files. PHP is running the entire time the digital file is downloading. Most web hosts put a time limit of 30 seconds on PHP processes. So if it takes longer than 30 seconds to download the file, the process will die and your customer ends up with an incomplete (corrupt) download. Meanwhile, your server is bogged down for other visitors while all this is happening.
Cart66 Cloud comes with your own CDN powered by Amazon S3 to securely host and deliver your digital products. This solves all the problems because you can’t directly link to the digital product since it is securely stored on Amazon S3. When a customer purchases the digital product Cart66 Cloud will generate a temporary (expiring) link that will allow the customer to download the file. You can also control how many times you want to allow a customer to download a particular file.
WordCamp Raleigh Slides
This has been a summary of my presentation at WordCamp Raleigh. If you would like to, you can download the slides from the presentation here (PDF format).